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Boks have their guard up

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Erasmus is hoping that the quality of the selected team will make it clear that they’re not underestimating Japan at all, not this time

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Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus reckons what happened in Brighton at the 2015 World Cup could “easily happen again” if they don’t learn from the past.

Looking at the path the current Bok team have been on recently, it seems unlikely highly unlikely. But the disaster that was South Africa’s 34-32 loss to Japan in England wasn’t expected either, yet it happened, and it’s an infamous result Erasmus puts down to complacency.

The SA director of rugby went all out with his selections for their final World Cup warm-up on Friday, when the Boks take on the hosts, Japan, in Kumagaya, before they meet the All Blacks in their World Cup opener on September 21.

Twenty-two of the matchday 23 that drew against New Zealand in July will feature in the friendly, with fully fit captain Siya Kolisi the only addition to the matchday squad.

Erasmus is hoping that the quality of the selected team will make it clear that they’re not underestimating Japan at all, not this time.

“I hope this selection will send a strong message that we have the utmost respect for Japan,” he said after naming the team yesterday.

“Perhaps we made the mistake of complacency against them in the past, but we’ve been hammering the message all week that we should never do that again against Japan. They’re a smart team of great athletes, playing at home, having won a title in the past month and now desperate to prove something. This Test is as big a challenge as any we’ve had this season.

“That kind of result can easily happen again if we don’t learn from the past,’ he said.

Underestimated Japan

“Our players who were there (in 2015) have held up their hands and said they totally underestimated Japan. If our mindset isn’t right and we’re looking beyond this game, then we’ll play right into Japan’s hands.

“This is a Springbok Test match against a team ranked in the world’s top 10, in their own backyard, and we’ve got to be full on if we want to win – anything less and we’ll be in trouble.”

Japan have built a good run building up to the World Cup, having beaten Fiji, the USA and Tonga to claim the Pacific Rugby Championship.

Jamie Joseph’s men’s success in six out of nine matches since the start of 2018 also saw them equal their highest-ever position on the rankings – ninth.

Apart from focusing on not underestimating Japan, the Boks have also zoomed in on dealing with the extreme weather conditions as best they can.

The Springboks were the first team to arrive in Japan in an attempt to acclimatise to the weather conditions, conditions Bok No 8 Duane Vermeulen believes makes strong preparation absolutely crucial.

“There’s a lot more attention to detail, let’s say breakdown-wise, when the ball might pop out, we have to be ready.

“We have to work on the small detail to make sure we get that perfected and make sure everyone knows what to do, especially with the ball being slippery and wet.

“You kinda know the conditions, but you don’t really get used to the conditions because the humidity affects every single player. It’s going to be a difficult and we need to prepare accordingly before going into the game (against Japan).”